Last year, we had some concerns about our traditional heat lamp. After a few close calls when our heat lamp fell from where we had it double- and triple-secured (luckily, we were right there next to it and could reattach it before it lit the brooder bedding on fire), we realized we didn’t want any more panic attacks.
I read a lot of stories about chicken coops, barns, and even houses burning down as the result of a heat lamp fire. There’s not much you can do to prevent this, either – while tying your heat lamp up securely can help prevent fires, the fact remains that the super-hot bulb is still a fire hazard.
And accidents happen.
While chicks need to be kept super warm for the first few days of life, you can begin drastically reducing the amount of heat you provide thereafter.
So why are we still using heat lamps?
**J&R Pierce Family Farm is a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program, an affiliate advertising program designed to allow sites to earn advertising fees by linking to products on Amazon. I often link to Amazon when recommending certain products, and if you choose to purchase, I may earn a small percentage of the sale. It costs you nothing extra, and all recommended products are ones that I personally vouch for. **
What Are the Risks of Using a Heat Lamp?
The main problem with a heat lamp is in how it is designed. There are several points in the unit that are prone to failure – most heat lamps are made out of aluminum and consist of a clamp and a hanger. The heat lamp clamp is really easy to knock free from whatever it’s attached to, and the wing nut on the heat lamp often loosens its grip during ordinary use.
In addition, heat lamps can cause some behavioral issues in your chickens. While they make red-light heat lamps that help reduce pecking behaviors among your chicks, these can be expensive and offer just as many risks as conventional heat lamps.
The massive 250-watt bulbs that you use in your brooder don’t do much for the chicks besides providing them with heat. They can cause overheating and even if you’re vigilant about raising the lamp a few inches per week to lower the heat in the brooder won’t do enough to acclimate your chicks to real-world conditions.
Plus, the metal clamps on heat lamps are rickety and often fall apart – even if you have the lamp secured, there’s a good chance that it will fall. The bulbs are hot to the touch, meaning you can’t keep your brooder near other pets or small children who might accidentally touch them. I’ve even burned myself on a heat lamp bulb from time to time!
Why Do Chicks Need Heat?
Chicks cannot regulate their own temperature until they have feathers – which is not until they’re about twelve weeks old. Until then, you’ll need to give them some extra heat to help them out.
Immediately after exiting the incubator, your chicks should be put in the brooder and kept at a temperature of 95-100 degrees for the first two weeks. Then, you should be reducing the temperature by five degrees every week until the chicks reach a month old.
While chicks need heat, there aren’t substantial studies evincing that chicks also need consistent light. When you use a heat lamp, your chicks are flooded in light, night and day. They don’t have the chance to adapt to a regular wake and sleep cycle as they would if they were being raised beneath a broody hen.
Some studies have suggested that continuous light in the brooder can not only cause a delay in the onset of egg-laying – but it can ultimately reduce the total number of eggs produced. Aggression can be triggered by continuous light, and this can be a persistent tendency that lasts the rest of your chicken’s lives.
There are even studies suggesting that heat lamps damage your birds’ eyesight!
I’ll stop being the bearer of bad news.
Your chickens need heat while they are young, and unless you live in the tropics, you are going to need a more reliable source of heat.
Let’s look at my favorite option: the heating plate.
How Do Heating Plates for Brooders Work?
Heating plates work in a relatively straightforward fashion. The underside of the plate has a heating element – the chicks can go under the plate and rest underneath. It’s also safe for them to touch it, so if they happen to brush their backs against the underside of the unit, they won’t get burned. This is just like how a mother hen keeps her chicks warm!
If your chicks get too warm, they can simply move out from underneath it. You can use the yellow legs to adjust the height of the plate so that the chicks won’t have to hunch over to get underneath the plate. This will also lower the temperature of your brooder naturally, instead of you having to change the height of your heat lamp all the time.
What are the Advantages of Using a Heating Plate for Brooding Chicks?
Heat plates offer all the benefits of heat lamps – but without the risk. An improperly secured heat lamp can easily fall and start a fire – at best, killing your chicks, and at worst, killing your chicks and burning your barn/house/garage down.
Plus, heat plates reduce the likelihood of your chicks becoming too cold or overheated. Because the chicks can move closer to the heat or away from it when they are hot – just as they would with a mother hen – they can learn how to adapt their temperatures to their own ends.
Heating plates also use less electricity than heat lamps. So while heat plates tend to be significantly more expensive than heat lamps, the money you will save in long term energy expenditures – and peace of mind! – will be well worth it.
Heating plates save electricity – using only 15 to 66 watts of electricity compared to the 250 watts used by heat lamps. They also present a lower risk of fire because the surface temperature only reaches 125 degrees.
These plates are more natural, acting more like a mother hen. Chicks can cozy up to the unit when they’re chilly, and there’s no disruptive light – your chickens will adapt to natural diurnal wake and sleep schedules.
I’ve also noticed that pasty butt is dramatically reduced in our flock since we bought our heating plate. It uses radiant heat so your chicks won’t overheat like they might under a conventional heat lamp.
Can You Use Heating Plates for Other Kinds of Poultry?
Yep – you can.
We used a heating plate when we raised our flock of guinea keets last year. They adapted to it just fine. Any kind of poultry that needs heat can adapt to the heating plate – you may just need to adjust the legs to accommodate for their varying heights, heat needs, and growth patterns.Save 50% on select product(s) with promo code 50PCCP1M on Amazon.com
Review of the Premier 1 Chick Heating Plate
There are several types of heating plates on the market, but we opted for the Premier 1 Chick Heating Plate. You can purchase this plate in a variety of sizes, including 10X10, 12×12 and 16×24. We have the 16 x 24, which is designed for 50 chicks.
This is a great alternative to the heat lamp. There’s minimal fire risk and the plate simulates a hen, acting just like a mama chicken keeping her babies warm and cozy under her features.
The chicks stay warm by contact with the bottom of the plate – this stays adequate warm, but not too hot. You can adjust the height from 1.5 inches all the way up to six inches so that your chickens stay nice and toasty no matter how large they grow.
This particular plate is designed for a maximum of 50 chicks, but the 12X12 accommodates about half as many birds. The 10X10 can hold fifteen chicks.
This unit uses only 66 watts per hour and the plate heats up to 125 degrees. It warms up almost as soon as it is plugged in, but I recommend you wait an hour before putting your chicks under it (and you should always check it with a heat gun to make sure it’s working properly, too).
This heat plate is one of the best that I’ve seen reviewed. In addition to the fact that I notice my chicks are much calmer when raised under the heating plate (versus a lamp), we also have noticed anecdotally that they seem to feather out much more quickly – meaning they can get outside (and out of our basement) more quickly.
What I Like:
I already told you most of the pros of this unit above – but this device is also backed by a one-year limited warranty. You can purchase an additional cover so that you don’t have to worry about poop covering the top of the plate – it keeps the unit safe and cleaner for longer. The cord is about 70 inches long and requires a 110-volt outlet.
The plate itself is made out of ABS plastic and polyurethane insulation. It’s safe for use around chicks and is lightweight, meaning you can easily move it in and out of the brooder. It does not get hot to the touch, so you can keep it around children or pets without worrying about injury.
Anecdotally, I’ve heard that this is one of the warmer chick plates you can find, but since I’ve never tried any others, I don’t know that for a fact.
What I Don’t Like:
The short answer? Very little. My only major complaint about the heating plate is that older chicks and other types of poultry (like our guinea keets) decided to jump on top of the heating plate once they realized they could do so.
The top can be somewhat hard to clean, but you could easily put contact paper or a similar cover over the top to keep it tidy – the top does not emit heat, so you don’t have to worry about damaging the unit or creating an additional hazard.
Some people have also expressed concerns that the temperature range of 105 to 125 degrees provided by the heating plate can sometimes be too warm for your chicks. Premier 1 recently began manufacturing a Heating Plate Temperature Controller which you can purchase for just a few dollars – this allows you to adjust the output of the unit by as much as 20% of full power.
At the end of the day, the most important thing to remember when raising chicks is that you need to be able to keep everyone safe. This chick heating plate does just that – plus it saves you money in the meantime.
What’s not to love? If you are looking for a better way to keep your chicks safe and warm, then I cannot recommend a heating plate enough.
What other tips do you have for raising chicks in a brooder? Let me know in the comments!
Want to learn more about raising chickens? Be sure to check out these articles!
- How to Butcher Chickens
- How to Keep Predators Away From Your Chickens
- The Best Egg-Laying Chicken Breeds
- The Ultimate Guide to the New Hampshire Chicken Breed
- How You Can Make Money Raising Chickens
Subscribe to our email newsletter for regular tips and tricks on homesteading – wherever you are. You can also follow us on Instagram (@jrpiercefamilyfarm) and Pinterest (J&R Pierce Family Farm) for frequent updates. Happy homesteading!